Cablegate: Morocco's Road Carnage

DE RUEHRB #0280/01 0911728
R 311728Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 RABAT 0781

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: In spite of a multi-year national campaign
initiated in 2004 to decrease road fatalities, Morocco suffered an
increase in the number of killed and seriously injured in 2007, with
on average, more than 10 people killed and 240 seriously injured on
Moroccan roads each day. The carnage prompted the Minister of
Transportation to announce a new road safety action plan at the end
of February that includes legislation that would implement a new
national road code. Although there is widespread outrage at the
scope of the carnage, public support of the government's reform
legislation is mixed and popular grass-roots efforts to curb the
situation have yet to materialize. As one contact in the Foreign
Ministry put it, "Moroccans drive the way they do because they can."
End Summary.

The Grim Statistics

2. (U) In Morocco there were approximately 3,800 people killed in
2007, with 86,000 injured in 54,500 accidents. Given Morocco's
estimated 2 million motor vehicles, this equates to a rate of 1,900
deaths per million vehicles, making Morocco one of the world's most
dangerous countries. By comparison, California, which is
approximately the same geographic size and population, has a rate of
approximately 135 deaths per million vehicles.

3. (SBU) Econoff met with the Chief of Road Safety in the
Transportation Ministry, Abdelhamid Janati Idrissi, to discuss
Morocco's accident statistics and government initiatives. Urban
areas account for the majority of accidents (70 percent), while
rural settings account for the majority of fatalities (70 percent).
Among the victims seriously injured or killed, 77 percent are male,
12 percent are less than 14 years old, and 31 percent are
pedestrians. In addition to the human toll, Idrissi underlined the
economic cost of Morocco's accidents, which the Ministry estimates
to be 2.5 percent of GDP, about equal to the value of all
U.S.-Morocco bilateral trade.

4. (U) During a recent interview, Transport Minister Karim Ghellab
defended the government's actions, calling attention to Morocco's
mortality trend before implementation of the 2004 plan. Between
1996 and 2003, Moroccan fatalities grew between 4-5 percent per
year. According to Ghellab, without government action in 2004,
Morocco was on course to suffer 4,490 fatalities in 2007, vice the
actual 3,800.

New Road Legislation Will Not Be Easy

5. (SBU) Reasons for Morocco's grim statistics are varied.
According to Idrissi, 80 percent of the accidents are due to human
factors he characterized as "disrespect" for the law. Other factors
include lack of safety awareness, road infrastructure, vehicle
condition, driver training and licensing, and weather. Addressing
all these factors, Ghellab announced a new plan of action on
February 20, which calls for renewed public safety awareness,
improvements to the road infrastructure, and implementation of a new
Moroccan road code. Included in the new code are increased use of
"on the spot" fines, stiffer penalties, and overhaul of vehicle
registration and drivers license procedures.

6. (SBU) While everyone seems to agree something must be done, not
everyone agrees the new road code is the answer. An earlier attempt
to secure its passage in April 2007 inspired two major labor strikes
that caused the government to withdraw it. Led by professional
transport unions, but also buoyed by public support, criticism of
the new code centers around its stiffer penalties and increased
authority for police to issue spot fines and confiscate licenses.
Heading the list of complaints are the increased fines, which
detractors call inappropriate for Morocco's standard of living.
Under the new law, the first level of fines would rise from 400
dirhams (USD 52) to 1,500 dirhams (USD 194). Detractors also
challenge the consequences of granting traffic police (seen as one
of the most corrupt entities in the country) the authority to
confiscate licenses, arguing that such power would give police even
more leverage to extort bribes from drivers who were at risk of
losing their livelihood.

7. (SBU) Also at issue for many Moroccans is the "actual" price
Moroccans will have to pay for traffic violations. Although a minor
speed violation currently carries a 400 dirhams fine, in practice,

RABAT 00000280 002 OF 002

many Moroccans make only a 50-100 dirham immediate payment to the
officer at the scene. In explaining the public's criticism of the
new law's increased fines, one Moroccan asked, "If a 400 dirham
offense actually costs 100 dirhams, how much will a 1,500 dirham
offense cost?"

Disrespect, Education, and Apathy

8. (SBU) Although not everyone agrees the new road code is the
right cure, there is general agreement on the disease: widespread
disrespect of driving laws and conditions. According to Idrissi,
disrespect of road laws, such as excessive speed, reckless driving,
intoxication, and improper passing, account for 80 percent of all
serious accidents. Reinforcing points made by Minister Ghellab,
Idrissi emphasized increased enforcement through passage of the new
road code as the key to reversing the situation. A contact in the
Foreign Ministry seemed to support this view. "It's not that
Moroccans don't know how to drive safely. In fact, they do so when
they travel to Europe and the U.S. They drive like they do in
Morocco because they can."

9. (SBU) Khalid Shimi, who runs a drivers training school in
Kenitra and is the director of the Moroccan Association for Road
Safety Education, agrees that disrespect of road laws is rampant.
However, Shimi believes that safety awareness programs aimed at
Morocco's youth hold the key to changing the current culture.
Shimi's association has presented over 30 safety outreach events at
local schools in the past two years, convincing Shimi that road
safety should be integrated into Morocco's education system.
Lamenting the number of children killed while walking to and from
school, Shimi admitted giving up hope for a culture change within
the current generation. Instead, he believes a new culture of
safety awareness can only start with the children.

10. (SBU) No one discounts the human cost of what the Moroccan
press calls the "Road War." Routinely, Moroccan TV broadcasts
grisly accident scenes and grieving families. Nonetheless, in a
country that seemingly embraces public demonstration as a national
pastime, public movements to stop the constant wave of accidents are
nonexistent. Shimi acknowledged frustration with both government
and public apathy, categorizing the whole "system" as corrupt.
"Licenses are bought, not earned. The same people who cry after an
accident are the same ones who paid the bribes."

11. (SBU) Comment: In terms of shattered human lives and lost
economic opportunity, Morocco's road accidents are exacting a price
the country cannot sustain. At the heart of the debate over the new
road code are basic questions of trust and corruption. On the one
hand, the public is reluctant to place additional trust in a traffic
police force that has proven to be rife with corruption. On the
other hand, the government asserts that placing more authority with
police and increasing fines is the only way to change the current
culture and deter disrespect of traffic laws.

12. (SBU) Comment Cont. While passage and implementation of the
new road code will not come easily, it appears to be something
Minister Ghellab is willing to stake his reputation on. Known as a
reformer within the government, Ghellab was given two of the
government's most controversial portfolios: port and road reform.
As he did with the port reform bill in December 2006 and in breaking
the transportation strike in April 2007, we look for Ghellab to
negotiate pay and pension concessions with the professional
transportation unions in order to gain ultimate acceptance of the
new road code. End Comment.


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